American Interest in the Caucasus

Note: This essay was prepared for the Caucasus Conference at Galatasaray University in Istanbul in June 2003 sponsored by the Strategic Research Center of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.


by Paul B. Henze

The Historical Background:

During the greater part of the 20th century American interest in the Caucasus was minimal. Nationalizations resulting from the Bolshevik revolution put an end to American commercial interest in Caucasian oil and minerals. The substantial American missionary and educational presence in the Ottoman Empire had never extended into the Caucasus. Only a tiny trickle of Caucasians emigrated to the United States in the 1920s. At the end of World War I public and congressional concern for Armenians brought the United States to the edge of the Caucasus in 1919-20 but a project for an American mandate in eastern Anatolia failed to gain congressional support. Though American Armenians originated almost entirely from the Ottoman Empire, their attention through World War II was primarily on oppression in Soviet Armenia rather than on historical issues relating to modern Turkey. The intense preoccupation of Armenians in America and elsewhere in the diaspora with the events of the late 19th and early 20th century in Ottoman Anatolia developed later.

The U.S. Government and the American public knew almost nothing of the 1944-45 deportations of Caucasian peoples at the time they occurred. By the beginning of the 1950s, however, as Stalin's expansion into Eastern Europe and aggressive actions everywhere from Berlin to Korea aroused alarm, Americans also became concerned about earlier Soviet atrocities. In a very short period of time American universities established study programs on the Soviet Union. Sizable numbers of refugees from the Soviet Union reached the United States. They included people from many Caucasian ethnic groups. The US Government expanded intelligence-gathering efforts and inaugurated propaganda operations--the broadcasts of Radio Liberty, for example. In the framework of all these undertakings the Caucasus began to receive serious attention. It was, nevertheless, not a high priority. Firuz Kazamzadeh's fundamental book, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, which appeared in 1952, did not inspire further historical research until several decades later. A Society for the Study of Caucasia did not come into being until 1984 and even then the major initiative was from Armenian-Americans.

The Collapse of the Soviet Union:

The devastating earthquake in Armenia in 1988 aroused great American sympathy and major aid efforts. But the Armenian-Azerbaijani War over Nagorno-Karabakh soon overshadowed problems resulting from the earthquake. It reached a critical stage with the invasion of Azerbaijani territory by both regular and Armenian exile forces. Armenian-Americans supported the Armenians' takeover of Karabakh and the invasion of purely Azeri-inhabited territory which followed. The U.S. Government welcomed UN and other international efforts to stop and then to mediate the conflict. The Armenian Lobby in the U.S. Congress, in spite of strong opposition by the President and the State Department, managed to insert provisions into the Freedom Support Act which prohibited all but minimal emergency humanitarian aid to Azerbaijan while rewarding Armenia with generous economic and humanitarian assistance. Only since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 has it been possible for the second Bush Administration to waive this restriction.

The first President Bush was reluctant to recognize that the Soviet Union was collapsing under the strain of Gorbachev's efforts to reform and rescue it. As a result, the United States Government was slow to face up to the consequences of the collapse. Dramatic developments in Lithuania and Georgia during 1990, following on the war that had broken out between Armenia and Azerbaijan eventually drew both public and governmental attention to the strong desire for independence that welled up among non-Russian populations, especially in the Baltic republics and the Caucasus. When Eduard Shevardnadze resigned as Soviet Foreign Minister in December 1990 it became apparent that a political earthquake was jolting the Soviet power structure. The close and sympathetic relationship that Secretary of State James Baker had developed with Shevardnadze became an important factor in focusing U.S. Government attention on the disintegration which followed as republic after republic declared its independence. Gorbachev was fatally weakened by the coup of August 1991 and the Soviet Union finally collapsed at the end of the year.

Georgia under the politically inept leadership of Zviad Gamsakhurdia experienced a greater degree of political disintegration than any other Soviet republic. It should be recognized, however, that Gamsakhurdia also had to contend with more destructive and disruptive efforts by resentful communists and militarists than any other post-Soviet leader. Independent Georgians, lacking armed forces of any consequence, found themselves embroiled in efforts to keep the Abkhaz nomenklatura from detaching their rich and attractive region from the country with Russian backing. Ironically, in light of the movement which soon unfolded in Chechnya across Georgia's northern border, Russians brought in Chechen fighters to help the Abkhaz separatists. With Russian support the South Ossetian nomenklatura were also successful in escaping the authority of the weak new Georgian government. In Ajaria a local warlord maintained peace and tight control with Russian support but without overt Russian intervention. By the end of 1991 the rest of Georgia had disintegrated into anarchy. Shevardnadze was persuaded in early 1992 to return to Tbilisi to take charge, but did not succeed in restoring a degree of order until the next year and at the expense of complete withdrawal from Abkhazia.

To neo-communists and unreformed Russian militarists Shevardnadze was a bete noir, seen as a man who had precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the final year of the first Bush Administration James Baker's influence was a major factor ensuring American attention to Caucasian developments and especially in encouraging international support for the beleaguered Georgian leader and his efforts to achieve some degree of stability. U.S. Government support for Georgia continued unchanged in the Clinton Administration.

On a per capita basis, Armenia during the decade of the 1990s became, after Israel, the largest recipient of American economic aid, while Azerbaijan continued to be discriminated against. The interest of American oil companies in rehabilitating and exploiting Azerbaijan's oil and gas potential compensated for the congressionally imposed boycott of the country. It can be argued that the actions of the U.S. Congress hampered and obstructed efforts to reach a settlement of the Karabakh problem and discouraged a reconciliation between Turkey and independent Armenia, just as similar congressionally-imposed requirements in respect to Cyprus have complicated settlement of this issue since 1974. Georgia, after Shevardnadze's return and assumption of leadership, gradually reached a degree of stability. It began to enjoy a significant amount of American support which, combined with support from European countries, ensured modest economic recovery and financial stability.

Chechnya, being an "autonomous" republic within the Russian Federation, could not expect the same international recognition of its declaration of independence the "union" republics enjoyed. Nevertheless the Chechens, under General Jokhar Dudaev, declared independence and drew up a constitution in 1992 and established a government over which Moscow exercised no control. Until Yeltsin sent in the Russian Army in 1994 they enjoyed international sympathy but did not gain formal recognition by any country. Dudaev proved to be unskillful as a political leader. Had he been as politically clever as Shaimiev in Tatarstan, he might well have achieved de facto in dependence for Chechnya. Instead he helped plunge it into disaster which has never ended and he himself died as victim of Russian arms. The Russian invasion and dramatic Chechen resistance have aroused great sympathy among the American public.

Russia was--and continues to be--condemned by the U.S. Government for its behavior in Chechnya, as it has been by all European states and most international organizations and groups. While the agreement with the Chechens which General Lebed negotiated in 1996 appeared to offer a way out of the impasse in which Russia found itself, the new invasion launched as Putin was chosen to succeed Yeltsin as President has simply continued the devastation of Chechnya. Both its wrecked economy and the desperate condition of its society have made it possible for nefarious Islamic forces to gain influence. Putin's sustained efforts to characterize Chechen resistance as a manifestation of international Islamic terrorism have neither facilitated Russia's efforts to settle the problem nor gained unequivocal international support.

The Caucasus in American Strategic Perspective at the Beginning of the 21st Century:

If the Caucasus occupied no major place in American strategic thinking at the beginning of the 1990s, the situation had changed decisively by the end of the decade for both positive and negative reasons. The negative reasons involved primarily the persistence of multiple conflicts in the region which continue to absorb diplomatic energy, exact heavy costs, and keep the region from developing a sound basis for economic and social development. Chechnya, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia have become nests of all kinds of lawlessness: smuggling, drug-trafficking, financial manipulations and terrorism. All are politically unstable. In addition several other Caucasian regions are potential areas of conflict and instability, notably Dagestan. Political uncertainty and economic stagnation have kept the entire region from developing sound governmental structures and evolving toward democracy. Russia's failure to develop a comprehensive Caucasus policy and the tendency of some Russian groups--with or without the support of the government--to intervene in the affairs of the independent South Caucasian states is a further exacerbating factor.

Positive reasons for greatly increased American interest in the Caucasus can be summed up under three headings: (1) Energy, i.e. gas and oil, and in the longer term, hydropower; (2) the proximity of the Caucasus to the Middle East, a region of primary American strategic concern; and (3) since 9/11, realization that any region which is chronically unstable may be sought as a shelter by enemies of peace and order in the world: terrorists, drug dealers, smugglers and criminals of all kinds. Underlying all American strategic considerations is a series of basic principles which have their genesis in the American Revolution and the entire evolution of the country's position in the world: democracy and the rule of law, human development and human rights, free trade and economic development, respect for ethnic diversity and religious freedom. Americans believe that the independent countries of the Caucasus as well as the regions and ethnic groups which still form part of the Russian Federation are entitled to evolve toward realization of these principles.

While American oil companies were quick to begin exploring possibilities for new or increased production in the Caucasus, the U.S. Government was relatively slow in developing its pipeline policies, which also related to gas and oil prospects in Central Asia. At the end of the 90s, the United States committed itself fully to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which is now in the process of being built. Since the U.S. is a major consumer of Russian petroleum, it is not opposed to development of Russian gas and oil; it simply believes that Russia is not entitled to a monopoly over transport of production from regions no longer under its control. The same principles apply to other aspects of the economy of the Caucasian countries. The United States favors the fullest possible development of their resources and trade between them and all their neighbors to the mutual advantage of all.

The United States is eager to see each Caucasian country meet its elementary security requirements and play a constructive role in regional security. Its train-and-equip program in Georgia has already increased the capacity of the Georgian armed forces to meet basic security needs, to keep disorder in Chechnya from spilling over the mountains into Georgia and to prevent terrorists and international freebooters from establishing themselves on Georgian territory. The United States has the same desires in respect to Azerbaijan. The strong support both Georgia and Azerbaijan enunciated during the war against Saddam Hussein has increased the prospects that both countries will benefit from modest increases in security assistance in the future.

Armenian-Americans have had surprisingly little impact on basic American strategic thinking and planning. The Armenian Lobby in the United States is seen by some far-seeing Armenians in the home country as having a counterproductive effect on the independent republic's conduct of its affairs. Is it in independent Armenia's interest to persist indefinitely in a hostile stance toward its huge neighbor, Turkey? Would it not be more in the country's interest to develop mutually beneficial economic relations and other forms of interchange with Turkey? Is it in Armenia's interest to let itself be exploited by Russian nationalists to exert political and military pressure on its neighbors? Are Armenia's interests in all respects identical with those of Russia?


There is no reason to believe that the main lines of United States Caucasus policy as they have developed to date will change rapidly. More normal relations between the United States and Russia will not have a negative impact on American relations with the independent Caucasian states. Closer contact between Bush and Putin may, in fact, give the United States opportunities to moderate negative aspects of Russian policies toward the Caucasus.

Strong Georgian and Azerbaijani support of American military operations against Saddam Hussein and continued support of American efforts to reconstruct and democratize Iraq will put both these countries in a stronger position to aspire to NATO membership. The United States will welcome the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. It has already welcomed the "early oil" pipeline to Supsa. At the same time the United States will continue to have a keen interest in the constructive political evolution of all three South Caucasian countries.

Washington, VA, June 2003

A Personal Note: I developed an interest in the Caucasus at an early age and have continued this interest ever since. I became aware of the significance of the Caucasus as a graduate student at Harvard University in the late 1940s. Living in Munich in the 1950s and at the end of the decade in Turkey, I came to know many emigres from the Caucasus. I published my first article on Caucasian history in 1956, a study of the struggle of Soviet historians to deal with the history of the great 19th-century Caucasian freedom fighter, Imam Shamil. I later published an account of the struggle of the Circassians. During the final two decades of the 20th century I published an enormous number of studies and articles on the Caucasus. I was head of an international observer mission in Chechnya in 1992 and later that year participated in another international mission to Georgia, concentrating on Abkhazia. In recognition of my writing on the history of the North Caucasus, I was awarded a decoration by the Dagestan Committee to Observe the 200th Birthday of Shamil at celebrations in Makhach-Kala and Gimri in 1997.

As appendices to this paper I attach two previous short papers which are still fully relevant:


Few areas of the world have attracted less American attention than the Caucasus. Early involvement of American traders and missionaries in the Ottoman Empire drew two young New England-born missionaries into an exploratory expedition into eastern Anatolia in 1830-31 that brought them into the Russian Caucasus and nearby Persian and Ottoman territories. These pious missionaries enjoyed Georgian hospitality but were depressed at the lowly state of the rank and file of Georgian and Armenian Christians. They wrote of the baneful influence of corrupt Russian officials and drunken soldiers on local life. They published an account of their travels in two volumes, the first account of a visit to the Caucasus by Americans, but neither the visit nor the books inspired other American missionaries to extend their activities into the Russian Empire.

The Armenians of Anatolia became a major preoccupation of American missionaries in the Ottoman Empire during the remainder of the 19th century. Because Ottoman authorities were tolerant of their activities, missionaries were generally pro-Turkish until the late 19th century. American diplomatic and military representatives in Turkey found the Ottoman Government helpful in arranging the rescue of Poles and Hungarians fleeing Russian and Austrian oppression after the revolutionary events of 1848. As the tensions that led to the Crimean War mounted and Britain and France backed Turkey in resistance to Russia, official American sympathies were with the Turks. American naval vessels had developed the habit of relatively frequent calls at Smyrna and Constantinople. When a new American minister arrived in Constantinople early in 1854, he expressed his hope to the Sultan that his empire which had "so often afforded an asylum to the exiled friends of Liberty" would prevail against Russia. American missionaries feared that a victorious Russia would see that they were expelled from a defeated Ottoman Empire, but in the United States attitudes were mixed. "Traditional Anglophobia" caused elements among the public and some congressmen to favor Russia. Such attitudes had no effect on the outcome of the war, which ended in a crushing Russian defeat in 1856.

Events in the eastern Mediterranean were of little concern to the overwhelming majority of Americans in the 19th century, but those who wished to be informed had a good source of information in the reports of the New York Tribune's European correspondent, Karl Marx. As one of this newspaper's most prolific writers during the 1850s, Marx filed comprehensive dispatches on European political developments and gave Russia, which he abhorred as the most reactionary of all major powers, the benefit of no doubt. Along with the Poles, the Caucasian mountaineers attracted his special sympathy. Marx's championing of them aroused the interest of a few adventurous Americans. A Bostonian traveller, George Leighton Ditson, spent several months in the Caucasus in the fall and winter of 1847-48 and wrote a book dedicated to Prince Michael Vorontsov, the Tsar's Viceroy in Tbilisi. He quoted with approval a Russian official's observation:

"These Circassians are just like your American Indians--as untamable and uncivilized...and, owing to their natural energy of character, extermination only would keep them quiet, or...if they came under Russian rule, the only safe policy would be to employ their wild and warlike tastes against others."

Ditson's choice of title demonstrates the extent to which the Circassians as a people had come to symbolize native resistance to the Russians, though he had no contact with Circassian fighters. The Circassians appealed to the U.S.Congress in 1859 for assistance in the defense of their liberties. The appeal was an act of desperation. It produced no response. Except for an occasional traveler and, toward the end of the century, a small group of businessmen, the Caucasus was a region beyond the range of American awareness.

By the end of the century one Caucasian nationality was attracting more and more American interest, though they were not seen primarily as a people of the Caucasus: the Armenians. American missionaries in the Ottoman Empire, forbidden to proselytize among Muslims, concentrated their efforts on Christian nationalities, sometimes in hope of rescuing them from the false doctrines of Eastern Orthodoxy, often simply because the Christians were receptive to modern education and ready to adopt a more modern way of life. In Anatolia they had the greatest success with the Armenians. As Armenians in the Ottoman and Russian empires interacted to form nationalist parties, many missionaries at first subconsciously, then quite consciously, identified with Armenian aspirations. By the turn of the century, as Ottoman Armenians became both victims and perpetrators of violence, many missionaries became outspokenly critical of the Ottoman authorities and American domestic opinion was aroused. The problem reached acute form during World War I when the Ottoman government decided to evacuate much of the Armenian population from eastern Anatolia. The rights and wrongs of this action and the numbers of people affected as communal violence spread with a heavy toll in lives among Turks and Kurds as well as Armenians and other Christians continue to exercise scholars and ethnic partisans. The practical result was an idealistic episode in American statecraft that brought the United States to the edge of direct political intervention in Caucasian affairs.

Long before the United States entered World War I, public opinion had become deeply concerned about the plight of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. In response, President Wilson set aside two days in October 1916 for a nationwide drive for Armenian relief. Soon after the United States entered the war and even though no declaration of war was made against Turkey, Armenians and their spokesmen proposed that the U.S. oversee creation of an autonomous Armenia with outlets on both the Black and Mediterranean seas. When President Wilson proclaimed his famous Fourteen Points in January 1918, he stated in the twelfth of these:

The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.

This statement was intended to refer primarily to Armenians and Arabs but Wilson had been persuaded not to mention any ethnic group specifically.

When the peace conference got under way in the winter of 1918-19, the concept of mandates for territories that had belonged to the German and Ottoman empires was advanced with an American mandate suggested for Armenia. Wilson agreed to consult the American people--i.e. the Congress--on the mandate and a good deal of enthusiasm for it developed in both the government and among relief and missionary groups. By this time a sizable body of ethnic Armenians had come to America, for immigration which began in the 1860s had grown in the late 19th and early 20th century. Americans of Armenian origin were elated at the prospect of American political responsibility for a greatly expanded homeland.

A commission headed by Major General James Harbord was sent to eastern Anatolia in September 1919. Harbord's report listed fourteen reasons for accepting a mandate and thirteen against it. He recognized a strong humanitarian case but calculated that the five year cost of assuming the responsibility would be $756,014,000, an astronomical sum in terms of the time. The Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles in November 1919, shortly after the Harbord Report was presented. The strength of isolationism was thus made evident, but supporters of the Armenian mandate, led by philanthropic and missionary organizations, continued their efforts. The President himself, though ill, remained strongly committed to the mandate. The U.S. gave de facto recognition to the Armenian Republic on 23 April 1920. In May President Wilson asked Congress to approve an Armenian mandate. The pressure of relief and missionary groups on Congress was not enough to generate great enthusiasm for the proposition. In June the Senate "respectfully declined" to accept it by a vote of 52-23.

While the issue of direct American political responsibility for the Armenian problem was thus closed, American involvement in the Armenian issue and related problems continued for another decade through a private organization called Near East Relief (NER). This organization had come into being as a result of the efforts of the Armenian Atrocities Committee, organized by former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau. He enlisted the support of Herbert Hoover, missionary interests and philanthropists. NER received substantial funding from Congress through the American Relief Administration and the U.S. Grain Corporation. Colonel Wm. Haskell was engaged in 1919 to direct American relief operations throughout the Caucasus. NER developed a broad constituency of supporters, attracted the services of medical groups who provided volunteers, and extended its operations to include Syria and Lebanon and assistance in the population transfers between Greece and Turkey after 1923. In the Caucasus, NER maintained rehabilitation operations even after the independent republics had been taken over by the Red Army. Experimental farms were closed down by the Soviet government in 1924 but orphanages continued in operation until 1930.

During the interwar period American interest in the Caucasus waned. It was confined to: (1) Americans of Armenian origin who followed developments in the Armenian Soviet Republic. A few became enthusiasts of the communist system that was being introduced there but most politically active Armenian-Americans who maintained contact with compatriots living in exile in Europe and the Middle East were anti-communist. (2) An extremely small group of Georgian emigres, all anti-communist, came to the United States after 1920. (3) A few journalists and a few scholars followed developments in the Soviet Union where the Caucasian dimension of Bolshevik politics was always relevant, given Stalin's ascendancy and the role of close associates such as Orjonikidze, Mikoyan, and Beria.

an Assessment after a Decade of Independence done in December 2000.


The three independent republics of the South Caucasus have made progress during the past decade in consolidating their independence and broadening their relations. Nevertheless, many problems remain and Russia's shadow still hangs heavily over the entire region. The effects of two centuries of Russo-Soviet domination, a form of colonialism more pernicious than that experienced by most Third World countries in Asia and Africa, cannot easily be overcome. Seen in broad historical perspective, Russian imperial domination enforced peace in the region and generated economic momentum. These were positive gains, but 70 years of Soviet rule badly distorted the evolution of the South Caucasian countries. Their economic development was subordinated to Moscow's priorities. Civil society was largely destroyed. Citizens of these countries have had difficulty gaining a sense of political responsibility. Ethnic tensions intensified once KGB controls were relaxed. While South Caucasians clung successfully to their linguistic and cultural heritage during the Soviet period, they emerged, as the Soviet Union collapsed, with little understanding of techniques of responsible governance of their own societies or experience in managing relations between countries and peoples.

To compound difficulties, Russians (with and without varying degrees of governmental support) engaged in irresponsible political maneuvers during and after the collapse of Soviet power which have left a legacy of unsettled conflicts in each of these countries. In addition, instability in Caucasian regions that remain within Russia--the entire North Caucasus--continues to affect the countries on the southern side of the mountains. Russia has been unable to develop a coherent Caucasus policy or to rein in military adventurers, old communists and neo-imperialist nationalists. Thus it has stumbled from one brutal intervention to another in both North and South Caucasian affairs. It has generated fear and distrust in Georgia and Azerbaijan. It has exacerbated political, economic and social problems in its North Caucasian republics.

The sections which follow address nine questions that are frequently posed by observers concerned with this region.


How does each state see its position in relation to the region and the surrounding area?

Georgia and Azerbaijan share deep distrust of Russian neo-imperialist tendencies. Both blame Russia for exacerbating internal ethnic strains. Both suspect Russia of abetting assassination attempts against their leaders. Both wish to reduce residual dependence on Russia and reorient all their relationships in a west-east, rather than north-south direction. Both give high priority to good relations with Turkey. Both desire closer relations with NATO. Both aspire to becoming part of an economic corridor extending from Eastern Europe through Central Asia all the way to China. Being small, diasporas play almost no role in the domestic or regional politics of these two countries.

Armenia continues to be led by men who favor Russia as a protector. Armenia pays lip service to notions of regional and, specifically South Caucasian, economic cooperation but has isolated itself by its aggression against Azerbaijan. Russia's inability to formulate a rational, forward-looking Caucasus policy leaves it locked into its old imperial habit of exploiting Armenians to gain advantages for itself in the South Caucasus. For neo-imperialist Russians, Armenian reconciliation with Turkey (which would bring the country many economic advantages) is undesirable, for an Armenia enjoying constructive relations with its geopolitical neighborhood could no longer serve Russia as a pawn. Armenian leaders, encouraged by diaspora extremists, have so far been unable to extricate themselves from this predicament.


Where do each of the South Caucasian states see their friends and enemies?

The fact that the population of Georgia is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian while that of Azerbaijan is predominantly Shia Muslim has little effect on public attitudes or on these countries' political orientation. Both give cooperative relations with each other high priority. Georgia values close relations with Turkey, Ukraine, and in Europe especially with Germany. The United States looms large among Georgia's interests and expectations. Georgia also aspires to close relations with the FSU states of Central Asia, particularly Uzbekistan. It has close relations with Israel and a fairly close relationship with Iran. Azerbaijan has an edgier attitude toward Iran stemming from its people's links with and interest in the much larger Azeri population of Iran. Azerbaijan enjoys a good relationship with Israel. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have disagreements over Caspian seabed entitlements which appear negotiable. In almost all other respects, Azerbaijan's attitudes towards other countries and peoples, including the United States and Europe, parallel those of Georgia.

Armenia's concept of friends and enemies is much more complex. Armenians are beset with victimization complexes. Armenia feels tied to Russia (even though it cannot always trust it) and distrusts Turkey, and as an alternative is establishing close links to Greece. Armenia looks to Iran as a tactical friend and shares many of the conventional attitudes of Russians toward Arab and Balkan countries, seemingly preferring radicals and mavericks among them. It aims to benefit at the same time from friendly relations with Israel. Among European countries, Armenia feels warmest towards France, which has a large Armenian diaspora. Armenia wishes to be regarded as a European/Western country but its close links with Russia limit the enthusiasm with which it participates in European and NATO activities. Armenia regards the US as an important friend but relies on its diaspora in America to press the U.S. Congress, against the desire of the Executive and responsible American public opinion, to maintain punitive measures against Azerbaijan.

South Caucasian attitudes toward the peoples of the North Caucasus encompass subtle variations. Armenian feelings toward Muslim North Caucasians are least warm; Azerbaijani attitudes toward Muslim North Caucasians most positive. Georgian attitudes are in a middle range. The North Caucasian ethnic group with most strained relations with Georgia is only partially and somewhat nominally Muslim: the Ossetes. Georgians continue to resent the support of some North Caucasian Muslims for Abkhaz separatism, but since the actions of Abkhaz separatists are attributed as much to Russian military neo-imperialists as to North Caucasians, Georgian resentments do not extend to North Caucasian Muslims as a whole. Both Georgians and Azerbaijanis have been sympathetic to Chechens, have expressed moral support and have proven unable to prevent limited material assistance from transitting their territory.


If future alliances are possible, what form might these take?

The most constructive "alliance" for the South Caucasian nations would be one which brought all three together in a common market with security and political dimensions as well as far-reaching economic cooperation. It would require a full settlement of differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Georgia has no differences with either which would require settlement before entering into such a pact. There is good reason to believe that Russia, as presently led, would go to considerable length to discourage and/or block realization of a genuine South Caucasian alliance, preferring to deal separately with each South Caucasian country and retain the option of encouraging rivalry and strain among them in keeping with traditional Russian divide et impera policy toward the Caucasus as a whole.

Georgia and Azerbaijan both aspire to a closer relationship with NATO and close involvement with European organizations, including the EU.

Some of Georgia's more creative and far-sighted political leaders have proposed a Pan-Caucasian regional association which would link the economies and infrastructures of the republics of the North Caucasus and perhaps even southern Russian regions (Stavropol, Krasnodar, Kalmykia, e.g.) with the South Caucasus. Advantageous as this kind of arrangement could be, it is difficult to envision it proceeding very far without fundamental changes in Russian mentality.


How could arrangements of this sort evolve? Is there a realistic basis for them?

A South Caucasian common market would be logical from an economic and energy viewpoint; it also makes geographic sense, given the importance of expanding all forms of transport through the region in coordinated fashion. In effect, very preliminary and tentative developments over the past decade have laid the basis for closer cooperation in all these fields, especially between Azerbaijan and Georgia. Security cooperation among the three is a further important dimension that would be mutually beneficial in controlling smuggling, drug traffic, and terrorism.

Common religion and common ethnic bonds are not relevant as a basis for alliance; neither do these factors represent insuperable obstacles to cooperation among South Caucasian countries, with the North Caucasus, or with neighboring countries to the west, south and east.


Could regional institutions have the effect of changing strategic alignments/divisions in the region?

Georgia and Azerbaijan give great importance to all regional organizations, arrangements for cooperation with NATO, the European Union and OSCE; both countries are enthusiastic about unilateral and multilateral military training arrangements, east-west transport schemes, Black Sea cooperation efforts, and regional economic cooperation initiatives with Middle Eastern countries to the south. It is too early to foresee how the GUUAM alliance will develop, but Georgia and Azerbaijan see it as having a significant future with the potential for developing into a roof over other cooperation and alliance arrangements. None of these regional cooperation arrangements is yet fully structured; most are dependent on meetings between presidents and other political leaders which sometimes entail little follow-through because implementing and reporting bodies have not been developed.

All three South Caucasian countries value membership in the United Nations and most of its subordinate organizations. All recognize that these organizations offer a framework and source of support for some degree of mitigation of territorial disputes. All welcome the various kinds of assistance that UN agencies can provide. None of these countries, however, has unrealistic expectations about the UN's ability to deal with major problems and areas of tension.

As long as Armenia retains close strategic links to Russia it is likely to be only a nominal participant in most of the cooperative arrangements that Georgia and Azerbaijan value. In fact its close involvement in some of these arrangements is regarded suspiciously by Georgia and Azerbaijan and feared as offering Russia an opportunity to engage in spoiling tactics. If the status of Karabakh were to be regularized and a formal reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan achieved, and if this were accompanied or followed by the opening of a normal relationship between Armenia and Turkey, a whole range of possibilities for Armenia's wholehearted participation in South Caucasian cooperative arrangements would open up.


Can cooperative arrangements among the South Caucasian countries generate self-sustaining momentum? What are the obstacles to effective cooperation?

The primary impediment to cooperation among the countries of the South Caucasus is Russia. Stability, consolidation of democracy, and steady social and economic progress in the South Caucasus will be possible only when Russia reconciles itself to loss of imperial conquests in the region and adopts a constructive concept of its future. Russia must recognize that reestablishment of hegemony over the South Caucasus is beyond its reach. It must also adjust its policies in the North Caucasus to recognize the desire of the peoples of the region to enjoy genuine autonomy. Initial steps in the direction of a more realistic and effective Russian approach to the Caucasus--a test of the Putin regime--are outlined in the final section of this essay.

There is no evidence that countries other than Russia are interested in interfering in the internal or intra-regional affairs of the South Caucasus in a disruptive fashion. Turkey's goals are constructive: stable political evolution of the South Caucasian states, development of the region as a market for Turkish products and technological enterprise, creation of modest military and security forces able to control borders and contain and prevent illegal activities. In the final analysis, Iran's aims in the South Caucasus seem much the same, but Iran, as presently led, is not inclined to coordinate its policies toward the region with NATO, the EU, or individual Western countries, in contrast to Turkey. All Western countries, organizations and institutions, including NGOs, pursue constructive aims in the region, including positive political, social and economic development and advancement of human rights. None of their programs constitutes an impediment to regional cooperation in the area.


What are prospects for settlement of regional conflicts in both within and between these countries?

The confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh adversely affects the economic and political development of both countries. It has created a festering refugee problem in Azerbaijan, a serious social and economic burden. The areas of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia are condemned to stagnation. The same is true of the situation in Abkhazia. This extraordinarily attractive and once highly productive region is an economic disaster area whose rebuilding will require major investments. Costs of rehabilitation of both Abkhazia and the Armenian-occupied areas of Azerbaijan will increase steadily the longer the present stalemate in these regions persists. The same is true to a lesser extent of the situation in South Ossetia. Threatened ethnic strains which some forces in Russia appear eager to exploit, such as the Lezgin problem in Azerbaijan, also create uncertainties which dampen prospects of foreign investment.

Continuing ethnic stress, political tension, and relative economic stagnation have resulted in a continual population drain from each South Caucasian country. Loss of population is most serious in Armenia, serious in Georgia as well, and less so in Azerbaijan, the most populous of the South Caucasian countries. Emigration, the extent of which is poorly documented, has two medium- and long-term negative dimensions: (1) if and when economic resurgence occurs, shortage of labor could inhibit development; and (2) brain-drain is depriving each of these countries of some of their best educated, talented and motivated men, women and youth.

Russia's brutal assault on Chechnya, compounded by efforts to intimidate Georgia and Azerbaijan for their sympathy with the Chechens, has reverberated through the South Caucasus. Chechnya is not the only region of the North Caucasus which worries South Caucasians: Dagestan harbors numerous embryonic ethnic conflicts; Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria are beset by periodic ethno-political strife; the Ingush-Ossete quarrel smolders beneath the surface; and Russia has not abandoned the old imperial habit of using the Ossetes to pressure neighboring ethnic groups. Stability in the South Caucasus is inevitably affected by developments immediately to the north. The Soviet Union was never able to devise a satisfactory political approach to the entire Caucasus region and instead fell back on the Tsarist habit of setting peoples against each other. The problem has been compounded for the rulers of independent Russia by the independence of the South Caucasus. So far they have failed to meet, or perhaps even to recognize, the challenge.


Do the countries of the South Caucasus matter to the rest of the world? Could they not be left as a political and economic backwater? Or perhaps Russia should be encouraged to move back in and take the region over?

Appealing as the notion might be to frustrated and myopic short-term Western thinkers, "permitting" Russia to regain direct control over the region is not an option. Russia has no capacity to impose stability on the region. The region matters for more than its oil and gas, for more than the transport routes that lead through it across the Caspian Sea to Central Asia and ultimately to China. Greater instability in the Caucasus would set off chain reactions that would threaten fragile states across the whole region. If Georgia and Azerbaijan, the key elements in American and European efforts to promote prosperity, democracy and development in former Soviet space, fail through Russia's incompetence or malevolence, the West's entire goal of building strong democratic states from the debris of the Soviet Union, including Russia itself, will fail. Geopolitical alignments, all the way to China, will occur that are hostile to US and European interests. In this sense, stability in the Caucasus is as essential for the future of the Middle East and Asia as stability in the Balkans is for Europe.


What can be expected of Russia?

Russia's performance to date provides only a fragile basis for hope about the future of the entire Caucasus, but it would be fatal to abandon efforts to spur Russia's leaders to perform more effectively. Western leaders need to persuade them that it is in their own interest. The advent of Vladimir Putin to elected leadership in the Kremlin offers an opportunity to persuade Russia to face its Caucasus problem honestly and responsibly. More than any other region, the South Caucasus must serve as a test of Putin's capacity to develop vision and exercise statesmanship. He has declared the Caucasus an area of major concern for Russia. Genuinely new Russian policy initiatives toward the region would ease Russia's burden and eventually permit the South Caucasus to become a stable and productive component of the Eurasian land mass.

Putin's testing should occur on four crucial issues:

1) Humane resolution of the Chechen problem including rebuilding of infrastructure and reestablishment of normal conditions of life, followed by an internationally acceptable political solution for the republic.

2) Abandonment of efforts to destabilize Georgia and Azerbaijan, including a halt to covert political interference and assassination schemes against their leaders. Strict measures should be taken to prevent maverick Russian adventurers' activities in these countries.

3) Cessation of all support for Abkhaz separatism, recognition of the region as part of the Georgian Republic with concrete measures to facilitate effective reincorporation of the area into Georgia, return of expelled inhabitants, and a commitment to avoid future interference by Russians.

4) Disavowal of the ancient Russian practice of utilizing Armenia and Armenians to threaten and destabilize the region. This requires commitment to settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and integration of Armenia into the life of the South Caucasus as a constructive partner to Georgia and Azerbaijan.


There are numerous other problems in the region needing attention, but progress toward solution of the above four would lay the basis for dealing with others. If Putin's Russia can demonstrate that it has embarked on an honest new course in its approach to the Caucasus, Americans, Europeans and others concerned with the area can take actions that will give South Caucasians the confidence to respond. But if Putin embarks on a course designed to reimpose Russian domination--directly or indirectly--over the region, employing Russian imperial and Soviet KGB techniques, prospects both for South Caucasian cooperation and genuine progress in the area will be poor. Foremost among the ultimate losers will be Russia itself.

Washington, DC December 2000


The Appendix attached to this essay provides a brief summary of this experience.

The most notorious was the killing of several thousand Polish officers at Katyn, initially attributed by the Soviets to the Nazis. It became the subject of serious congressional investigations in the early 1950s.

Eli Smith & H.G.O. Dwight, Missionary Researches in Armenia: Including a Journey Through Asia Minor, and into Georgia and Persia, 2 vols., London, George Wightman, 1834.

The U.S.S. Mississippi became the first American warship to enter the Black Sea in 1850. At the end of the summer of 1851, the Hungarian revolutionary leader, Lajos Kossuth, and several dozen other Hungarian refugees embarked on this same vessel to sail to the United States. For a comprehensive discussion of American diplomatic and military actions--and complications--in respect to Turkey and Russia during this period, see James A. Field, America and the Mediterranean World, 1776-1882, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1969,pp. 214-261.

Field, op. cit., pp. 243-44.

Field, op. cit., p. 244.

All of Marx's correspondence and journalism for the New York Tribune and European newspapers was collected by his daughter, Eleanor Marx Aveling and her husband, Edward Aveling, and published in a large volume in London by Swan, Sonnenschein & Co. Ltd. in 1897: The Eastern Question, a Reprint of Letters Written 1853-56 Dealing with the Events of the Crimean War. It was reissued by Augustus M. Kelley Publishers, New York, 1969. I summarized this volume in "Marx on Muslims and Russians", Central Asian Survey, 6/4, 1987, pp. 33-45.

Circassia, or a Tour to the Caucasus, New York, Stringer & Townsend, 1850.

Another book published during the same period: J. Milton Mackie, Life of Shamyl and Narrative of the Circassian War of Independence against Russia, Boston, Jewett & Co., 1856, presents a highly idealized picture of Shamyl but seems to be based entirely on second-hand reporting, for it includes no evidence that the author ever visited the Caucasus! It testifies, nevertheless, to the fact that both Shamil and the Circassians had achieved a certain renown in America.

Field, op. cit. p. 242.

I summarized the evolution of this problem in "The Roots of Armenian Violence" in International Terrorism and the Drug Connection, a symposium published by Ankara University Press, Ankara, 1984, pp. 179-202.

As cited in Richard G. Hovannisian, Armenia on the Road to Independence, 1918, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1969, p. 252.

A study group appointed by Wilson to formulate American positions had included in its recommendations a more specific formula: "We must secure a guaranteed autonomy for the Armenians, not only as a matter of justice and humanity but in order to re-establish the one people in Asia Minor capable of preventing economic monopolization of Turkey by the Germans."--as cited in Hovannisian, loc. cit.

Robert L. Daniel, American Philanthropy in the Near East, Athens, OH, Ohio University Press, 1970, p. 160-165. The Treaty of Sevres, to which the U.S. was not a party, was signed by the remnant Ottoman Government in August 1920. It provided for an Armenian state in eastern Anatolia and provided for arbitration of the Turco-Armenian boundary by the U.S. President. The treaty was, in effect, stillborn, for the national liberation movement led by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) had been steadily gaining momentum during the previous year and rejected it. The overwhelming proportion of the Armenian population of the provinces that were to form the Armenian state had either been deported to Syria, died or fled to Russian/Soviet territory.

Daniel, op. cit., pp. 168-69.

And ipso facto discredits much conventional wisdom about the importance of religion in international relations.

It would require the kind of fundamental change in Russia which Zbigniew Brzezinski outlines in "Living with Russia" in The National Interest, Fall 2000.

Fears that Iran would pursue narrow religious aims in the South Caucasus, especially in Azerbaijan, have not materialized. There seems to be little prospect that Iran is going to invest effort in this direction.

Currently, political tension appears most serious in Armenia in the wake of the parliamentary massacre, the effects of which are still being felt. Political uncertainty in Azerbaijan stems largely from fear of a difficult succession following the passing of Heidar Aliev. Georgia appears to be least affected by political uncertainty, but tensions between three-pronged political forces (ex-communists, Ajar warlord Abashidze and progressive forces supporting Shevardnadze) remain and complicate the process of restructuring the country's administrative system.

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